We need more useless PDF forms online

If your business or agency provides PDF files for your various forms, be sure to make them completely useless. Don’t let users fill in the blanks in their PDF application. Password protect them. Make sure the link is dead. Why? So that you can attract the ire of your site’s visitors, of course!

This short rant is inspired by the folks in the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance. That department is charged with, among other things, creating and providing a form to be filled out and submitted to the county auditor when a piece of real estate is transferred. I needed to fill one out this morning, so after a Google search, I found the form and downloaded it. The form itself is three pages. The first page asks for information about the property and the conditions of the transfer (for value, gift, etc.). I typed in the data and checked a series of boxes, enjoying the fact that the department provided this fill-in form to make everyone’s life easier.

The second page asks for information about the preparer, so I was happy to fill in my name. But then when I clicked on the field to type in my city, state, and zip code, I found out the field is password protected. So is the field for the phone number. So is every other field on the page.

What. The. Hell.

Why on earth someone would think it makes sense to password-protect a field that can be filled in by pen anyway is beyond me. Maybe someone forgot to remove password protection before uploading the form (although I cannot envision why the fields would have been password-protected in the first place). Whatever the reason, this experience gives you the excuse to check your forms available online to make sure they are usable, easily found, and downloadable.

Making a list, checking it twice…

Checklists can save lives. They can also prevent malpractice for lawyers, doctors, and other professionals. Last week, NASA used a mountain of checklists to successfully launch a test of the new Orion capsule. Even at the very end, the launch director made sure every box was checked: (video link, just in case)

Some lawyers like to use checklists, but they often run into the problem of not knowing exactly what should go on a checklist. The Checklist Manifesto, by physician and author Atul Gawande, is a perfect short read on how checklists work and the best practices for creating and using them.

I prefer to make my own checklists, but I find I can create better checklists if I have a model to start from. Colorado litigator Jeff Vail has done us all a favor by creating his Litigation Checklist (and sub-checklists) and offering it up for free.

Many of us will have a little downtime over the holidays. I know I’m going to try to find a little time for myself to read and work on some checklists. Let me know if it’s part of your holiday escape as well.

On corruption

We live in a corrupt society. Not necessarily in the legal sense—much of what some refer to as corruption is completely legal. The corruption we deal with is in the faith we have in our world.

  • A white police officer shoots an unarmed African-American man. After the investigation, the officer faces no charges or discipline.
  • A legislator votes against a particular bill that is overwhelmingly supported by her constituents yet opposed by her campaign donors.
  • A judge rules in favor of a party whose CEO has given donations to the judge’s election campaign.
  • A president appoints a barely qualified major campaign fundraiser to an ambassadorship.

Governments that do not maintain the faith of the people struggle and fail. In the old Soviet Union, it certainly did not help that the common citizen knew that the Soviet government’s propaganda was not rooted in the truth.

Today, it is hard to have faith in our government. The Eric Garner and Michael Brown deaths at the hands of white police officers have brought that lack of faith to the surface. Scores of communities were angered and disappointed when grand juries decided not to indict the police officers involved. Twenty some years ago, Los Angeles erupted in riots after a jury acquitted police officers who had used severe force against Rodney King—and their actions were captured on video.

I do not know the facts of each case that occupies us this year. It is possible that the officers in each case did nothing wrong. A good faith investigation might compel that result.

Our problem, however, is that we do not trust The System. If Officer Wilson had been indicted in Missouri, the police and their supporters would likely decry the indictment as an effort to offer a sacrifice to political constituencies. When the grand jury chooses not to indict Officer Wilson, some suspect that the prosecutor got the result he wanted.

Our system has been corrupted—not criminally, but in the root of the word: broken. If our nation is to thrive, we must find a way to restore our faith in The System. Campaign finance reform is one obvious solution (albeit politically difficult). How we rebuild the trust so that everyone has faith that investigations into wrongdoing is the bigger question. We may not find the answer, but we have to keep asking the question.

“Reboot yourself”—U2

Blogging is hard work.

Anyone who writes anything—letters, contracts, thank you notes—knows that writing takes time. Writing blog posts also takes time. (The topic of finding time to write is an entirely different matter.)

What makes blogging into hard work is figuring out what to write about. What recent events, latest products, or new apps will be of interest to the readers of this blog?

I take my hat off to guys like Jeff Richardson of iPhone J.D. and David Sparks of MacSparky. They generate great content all the time. They have a gift. Writing their blogs is also fun for them.

In case this post sounds like a farewell, let me say it is definitely not that. I am, however, going to work on “rebooting” this blog and myself. The upcoming holidays are a good time to do that.

See you again in 2015 (unless I find something I absolutely must write about here)!

Facebook post gets Navy veteran fired

A US Navy veteran lost his job with a hotel in Missouri after he posted a few photos to his Facebook page. What was in those photos? A group of Department of Homeland Security vehicles. That were parked in the hotel garage. Apparently, the hotel’s security chief called the man “a terrorist.”

Legally, the hotel may be in the right if Missouri is an employment-at-will state. But the hotel looks dumber than a bag of hammers. The vans were in a public parking garage, visible to anyone driving or walking in the garage, and weren’t hidden in any fashion. How putting the photos up on Facebook amounts to an act of terrorism is…well…it doesn’t pass the giggle test.

As a civil libertarian at heart, what really bothers me about this incident is that the hotel is telling its employees, “If you do something legal that could make us look like we don’t support the Department of Homeland Security, you’ll lose your job.” This kind of economic threat can be used to chill the constitutionally protected speech of its employees.

It may be legal, but that doesn’t make it right.